FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Josh McCown has seen many rookies step into the white-hot spotlight of the NFL and struggle.
The veteran New York Jets quarterback has also watched some youngsters thrive in the pressure, so he could be considered a bit of an expert on the topic.
That’s why it says a lot when McCown raves about Sam Darnold, the No. 3 overall pick who’s considered the future of the franchise.
“I don’t want to put any undue expectations on him, but I’ve been very impressed with him, I’ll be honest with you,” the 39-year-old McCown said after practice Saturday.
“Of any kind of rookie player I’ve been around, he’s been impressive how he’s handled information from the classroom and then to take it to the (practice) field and then take it to the game, he’s done just an excellent job of that.”
Darnold is competing with McCown and Bridgewater for the starting job, and the Jets are giving their prized rookie every opportunity to be under center when New York opens the regular season at Detroit on Sept. 10.
Darnold got the bulk of the snaps during practice Saturday, but split time with the first-team offense, mostly with McCown. Coach Todd Bowles hasn’t announced who’ll start against the Giants on Friday night, when the starters are expected to play into the second half.
The 21-year-old former USC star had a terrific debut in the preseason opener against Atlanta and had an up-and-down performance in his first NFL start last Thursday at Washington. Darnold went 8 of 11 for 62 yards with an interception and was sacked twice against the Redskins.
“After watching the tape, I thought I managed the game really well,” Darnold said. “I feel like there was one play down in the red zone where I could’ve maybe squeezed it into Jermaine (Kearse). It was the third down when I got sacked down there. So, just that play really sticks out to me.”
Then, Darnold pointed out another play in which he was intercepted by Troy Apke on a pass intended for Kearse on fourth-and-1 from the Redskins 20 midway through the second quarter. The rookie said there wasn’t much else he could’ve done on the play other than to maybe try a corner route to Robby Anderson.
“Other than that, I thought I played a pretty solid game,” he said.
Darnold isn’t afraid to point out his miscues, which says a lot about his overall confidence in himself.
“He’s been impressive,” McCown said. “It’s a credit to his character that he has put the time in and we’ve just got to keep going and keep growing, but so far (he’s) one of the most impressive guys as a rookie that I’ve been around. … Like when Anquan Boldin came on the scene, he just kind of exploded years ago. He’s got kind of that same ability to operate like he’s been here before.
“It’s not too big for him. I think that’s the biggest thing.”
McCown witnessed the hype surrounding JaMarcus Russell when he came to the Raiders as the No. 1 overall pick in 2007. The former LSU star was out of the league just three years later.
McCown was with Cleveland in 2015, when Johnny Manziel was in his second NFL season. Manziel struggled so much on and off the field that he was out of the NFL after that year and is now playing in the CFL trying to resurrect his football career.
“Some of the other rookies I’ve been around probably didn’t come in as prepared or as ready for this league, I think, as Sam,” McCown said. “When you talk about whether it’s JaMarcus Russell or Johnny Manziel or some of those guys, they came in and (with) Sam, he’s ready to go as far as it doesn’t seem too big for him right now.
“He’s a mature kid. I think that’s the main thing, and I think that gives him a chance.”
Others have noticed, too. During joint practices with the Redskins during the week, cornerback Josh Norman spoke glowingly of Darnold’s abilities.
“It’s awesome,” Darnold said. “It’s cool to be able to, I guess, have his respect, but I think it’s just cool to have a guy like that to notice me doing well in practice. You don’t really expect a vet to really talk about a rookie like that.”
But, in Darnold’s typical calm and cool approach, he didn’t make too much of the kudos.
“He was really just saying that some rookies can’t throw the ball and I can throw it,” he said with a laugh. “He was definitely very nice after the game, too, and we shared some words. So it was cool to be able to talk to him a little bit after and kind of just pick his brain on what he’s looking for, in terms of quarterbacks.
There it is again: Darnold is always trying to learn, or at least glean a little extra info that can make him better.
“I knew he was smart, and everybody learns differently,” Bowles said. “You don’t know until you get in and throw the playbook at him and see what they can comprehend and what they can’t. He’s done a great job of remembering everything and playing with poise and control. I’m happy with where he is.”
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